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The Free Zone: Two Trends to Watch Closely

Column By Richard Aihoshi on January 31, 2012

In light of the huge potential impact of SOPA and PIPA on the free and open nature of the Internet, the rapid progress they were making toward becoming US law and the website blackout protest that was about to take place a couple of days later, my choice of topics last time was very easy.  While both have now been stalled, a word of caution is still very much in order.  Neither is dead.

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After spending millions of dollars lobbying to get them created and to promote them almost into law, the entertainment industry isn’t just going to say “Okay, we tried.  We’ll give up now.”  So, those who think the war has been won are fooling themselves.  In all probability, some form of anti-piracy legislation will still be passed, likely this year.  Realistically, the goal is to have it be something reasonable, not disguised and/or barely softened versions of SOPA and PIPA. 

This matter also happens to be part of a trend I’ll be watching even more closely over the coming months…

Increasing Government Intervention

This was inevitable as the video game revenues soared into the billions of dollars.  The true question was never if it would happen, but rather when and how.  SOPA and PIPA are broader; they’re much more about movie studios and TV networks protecting their interests.  However, I can only wonder how long it will be until we see legislation that’s specifically directed at our industry.

It’s already happening elsewhere.  I’ve written before about a few actions taken by the Chinese and Korean governments.  Last year, the latter enacted what is widely known as the shutdown system.  In common with SOPA and PIPA, it’s hard to argue with the underlying goal, which is to prevent young gamers from racking up excessive amounts of playing time.  Also like the American bills, major issues arise in relation to the method of implementation, which reportedly went into effect just last week.

From what I can gather, it’s selective.  Apparently, parents of gamers under 18 years of age can require game companies to restrict their children’s access.  For what it’s worth, the kids and teens can also have the same limitations applied to themselves.  However, this only applies to publishers with minimum annual revenues of about $US 26 million.  What’s more, it seems mobile games are excluded. And as a possible next step, it has been said that the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology may be considering the compulsory banning of young gamers’ accounts if they are played for two hours at a time or more than three hours a day.

This entire situation would be laughable if it weren’t so sadly misguided.  Ostensibly, it’s bad for Korea’s youth to play a single popular online game for more than two or three hours a day, even if it’s only on weekends or once in a while.  But playing one 24/7 is somehow alright if it’s from a low-revenue operator.  So is playing full-time if the person switches among multiple games and/or publishers without exceeding the time restriction on any one of them.

It can be easy enough to think something similarly silly can’t happen in the Land of the Free.  However…

Increasing Breadth and Hybridization of Business Models

This is another trend I’ve touched on previously.  It’s also one I expect to see gaining further momentum as we progress through 2012.  The simple fact of the matter is that it’s not a one-model-fits-all situation.  What’s more, as the market continues to draw in more users, they won’t all have the same attitudes and preferences that were prevalent among earlier generations of adopters.

If only certain approaches were possible, those individuals would have to choose one or not play.  However, this isn’t so.  Game companies have plenty of scope to offer both new revenue models and further variations on the current ones.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were more already.  If we look at the gameplay side, we expect to see adaptations galore along with less frequent introductions of things that are novel or innovative.  Yet in terms of monetization, companies seem far less willing to push the envelope.

I’ve been getting the impression for perhaps the past 12 to 18 months that there’s an undercurrent of change happening.  We haven’t really seen much yet, but I think there’s a decent chance some things will start to surface before this year is out.

A Couple of Interesting Newsbits

The past weeks also brought a couple of reports that particularly piqued my interest.  One was Nexon’s acquisition of Shaiya.  I recall that a sequel is in development.  If so, I’d guess it’s included in the deal.  It seems unlikely that service in the west will be affected in the short term, but I’d guess it will be brought in-house when Aeria Games’ contract runs out.

The other is that in the UK, Jagex reportedly won a legal case it brought against Impulse Software, the developer of a Runescape bot.  I haven’t found much in the way of details, so it’s hard to assess the implications.  However, I can’t help but wonder if there are any for other markets.

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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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